Emergency Communication Options for SHTF Preparedness

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If you ever find yourself facing having to deal with a disaster type situation, the one thing you can’t always rely on is your cell phone to help you out of a bind! Unfortunately, when the SHTF hard and things go from bad to worse, you may well need some help. Forget your cell and your landline telephone, they’ll be next to useless as they’ll either be down completely, or swamped under with calls. 

When the SHTF you’ll have to rely on something old school to keep you safe and sound, something that isn’t reliant upon modern telecommunication networks- that something is radio waves.

CB, Ham, and FRS/GMRS two-way radios will give you the edge that you need to survive as you will be able to use them to call for help and to keep posted on the latest updates.

Whichever two way emergency communication method you decide to use always ensure that once you have your equipment, you put it to use. In fact you should aim to get so familiar with your new radio equipment that using it becomes second nature. That way, when you are effaced with an emergency, you will know exactly how to put your radios to good use. 

Learning how to use a brand new piece of radio equipment whilst in the middle of an disaster situation and not being aware of it’s limitations is definitely not a good idea!

So, what are your options?

1. GMRS and FRS Two-Way Radio

There are several benefits to using two-way radios particularly when you have children in your group, although they do have a downside too.

Advantages:

  • GMRS/FRS two way radios are extremely easy to use, so much so that any young children can learn how to use one relatively easily. 
  • The best two way radios are lightweight and durable, some are even waterproof making them ideal as an everyday carry item.
  • Most radios will be powered by a built-in lithium battery although many also use AA or AAA batteries as well, ideal in an emergency should your internal battery run flat. A correctly charged lithium battery does offer a long battery life though, and many models will last as long as up thirty hours before running low. 
  • Another benefit of commercial GMRS/FRS two way radios is that they are extremely affordable so if you are working within a budget but would also like to build up your emergency supply storehouse, they are a cost-effective solution should you need multiple handsets.

Disadvantages

  • GMRS radios are limited to only 23 channels, FRS 14, so should you try using them in an area where there are a lot of other users so there will be a lot of interference.
  • Great for short term emergencies but will require means to charge internal batteries in the case of a grid down scenario, or a very large supply of disposable batteries.
  • The biggest down side to these types of two way radios is that they operate on a line of sight principal. This means that the more obstructions there are between two communicating radios the shorter the range will be. In an urban location your range could be anything between 800yards to a couple of miles. Transmitting from elevated locations will help increase range in most cases so remember that.

2. CB Radio

Although diminished in popularity since its heyday in the ‘70s when it seemed as if every self-respecting trucker had a CB radio mounted in his rig, the CB radio should not be dismissed as an effective emergency communication method. 

Advantages:

  • CB Radios (Citizens band) offer many of the same advantages as GMRS/FRS two way radios. 
  • CB radios are at their best when used as a vehicle mounted radio, specifically for vehicle to vehicle communication.
  • During an emergency situation it will be much easier to find an open channel on a CB radio than it would be with a GMRS/FRS radio because most former CB users have now switched over to GMRS and FRS so there is a lot less traffic.
  • No license is required to operate a CB radio and as with two way radios, CB radios are also very affordable.  

Disadvantages

  • Mobile CB handsets are not as good on average as GMRS/FRS handsets performance wise, and suffer from much greater interference than the two way radios handsets.
  • CB radio handsets are heavier and ‘clunkier’ than GMRS/FRS radios and they also need a much longer antenna to operate similarly which makes them a very poor choice as a handheld communication option.

Note: Although legally a CB radio is only allowed to use 4 watts of power which does not require a license as mentioned, the power can very easily be increase by using bigger amplifiers and antenna. Doing so is illegal, and therefore not advisable. However, when the SHTF who’s going to be checking?  

3. Ham Radio

Ham radio, or amateur radio, is considered by all serious preppers as being the best emergency communication system there is, and as such it is deemed the best choice as an ongoing communication method in the event that telecommunications never come back online.

But what is it about ham radio that makes it such an effective and reliable communication method?

Advantages:

  • Ham radios, unlike CB and GMRS/FRS two way radios, provide long range communication, allowing operators located hundreds of miles apart the ability to easily communicate.
  • Ham radios are also able to make use of a lot of channels, whereas CB radios only have about  twelve channels, and GMRS and FRS two way radios that have 23 and 14 respectively.
  • Ham radios are able to use one-way frequencies that have been especially designed for use during emergencies. Many of the emergency services often use ham radio when telecommunications are down to inform locals of dangerous situations; the Red Cross, the National Guard, inter-state and local Police departments to name a few.
  • Best suited radio for long term use in a broken world as long as an alternative emergency power source is available… Solar powered generators are often the most mentioned solution for this specific problem.

Disadvantages:

  • Longer ranges require higher power output and that means in order to operate a ham radio you will need to register, take, and obviously pass, an exam only then will you become licensed to use them.
  • The whole process including the exam is relatively easy, especially since they removed Morse code as a requirement a few years back. You will need to study, but it will be worth it once you have your operator’s license.
  • Much more complicated to use than CB and two way radios/walkie talkies making them not very child and technophobe friendly, this goes for the handheld radios as well.
  • A decent ham radio system is not going to be cheap. Although to be honest, if you had already taken the decision to spend time, effort, and money in order to get your operator’s license, you would know this already.
  • A ham radio base station will require power to operate so a generator of some kind will be required if the grid goes down.

Summing Up

The information above only provides the briefest of summaries for each of the three emergency communication methods that are deemed by most experts as the three best forms of communication available to the general public when cell and other telecommunication networks are down. It would be advisable to look much deeper into each of them before committing to making any decision; this is particularly true where ham radios are concerned.

Each of the three communication methods has its unique benefit and its Achilles heel. Unfortunately, this does mean that if you wanted to ensure you had every post-SHTF communications angle covered, the only option open to you would be to have all of them at your disposal. For most people that is not an option as cost will inhibit them to making just one choice. In most cases this choice would be GMRS/FRS two way radios as they are very user-friendly, useful for family recovery, and they are an affordable starting point on the communications ladder for most people.

Author Bio: Danny Major is a father of four and a former armored reconnaissance soldier who knows a thing or two about survival, staying under the radar, and being prepared. Read more about Danny at AlphaSurvivalist and how zombies turned him into a prepper!

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